One of the more fascinating things about Kentucky, is the fact that you know the sights or sounds of many fellow Kentuckians, but you often times don’t know their name or what they do. I bet I could name 25 musicians that are in popular acts and you would likely have no idea they were Kentuckians.
By now, you’ve heard the name Chris Stapleton. He is a fellow Kentuckian who has made his mark as a Kentucky, loud and proud. What you may not know, is that his bass player, J.T. Cure, is also a fellow Kentuckian. J.T. grew up in Elkhorn City and spent time as part of the Kentucky Opry at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg.
The Kentucky Opry also produced Rebecca Lynn Howard. She has had success as a solo artist and she is currently the bassist in the backing band for Steven Tyler, who you’ll know from Aerosmith fame.
While we’re on the subject, keep your eyes peeled for a young lady that’s currently a part of the Opry. Rachel Messer is from just across the river in West Virginia. She has a wonderful voice that reminds me of Dolly Parton.
J.T., Rebecca Lynn and Rachel are shining examples of how important the Kentucky Opry and the MAC are for all Kentuckians.
I had the honor of asking Mr. Cure a few questions about Kentucky, The Wooks and where he goes when he comes home to the mountains. I hope you enjoy our interview!
Photo courtesy of Patty Loveless Facebook
CK: You grew up in Eastern Kentucky, Elkhorn City to be precise. That happens to also be the home of one Patty Loveless. Growing up in that area, was her presence an inspiration to your desire to become a musician?
J.T. Cure: One of the first concerts I remember seeing was Patty at the Elkhorn City High School gymnasium. I would definitely say it had an effect on me to see someone that was from my hometown become successful at a job that wasn’t in the teaching, healthcare or coal mining fields. Patty had a guitar player with her back then named Kenny Vaughan (now of Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives) who blew me away. Fast forward about 25 years and now Kenny is one of my good friends. We have played music, traveled and recorded together.
CK: The Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg is about to kick-off another season of the Kentucky Opry. You’re an alumnus of the Opry. Can you share a bit about what your experiences and the importance of such a program in an area with seemingly fewer and fewer opportunities as time marches on?
J.T. Cure: The Kentucky Opry played an important role in my musical education. I would say I learned everything I know about playing commercial music there. I have been blessed with great teachers in my life from middle school band with Tommy Thornsberry, high school band with Debbie Evans, my experiences at Morehead State University with Ray Ross and Jay Flippin. Each taught me something different about music.
I started in the Kentucky Opry Junior Pros and then ‘graduated’ up when Ray Salyer who was playing bass at the time took a gig on the road. Ray is still probably the best bass player I have ever heard. I learned so much from him just by listening and being around him. Dave Kazee, who played keys while I was there, was also a big influence on me. He is the first person that hired me on sessions at his studio in Salyersville.
CK: As a Kentuckian who travels the world playing music, besides family, what do you miss most about Kentucky when on the road?
J.T. Cure: It is something hard for me to explain, but I just miss being in Kentucky. There is something about crossing the state line that gives me peace. It just feels right. People in Kentucky have a certain spirit about them you can’t find anywhere else in the world. And, I suppose, I also miss all the blue.
CK: When I go back to Eastern Kentucky, I always make sure to visit Letcher County so I can hit up Joe Packs Chicken Drive-In which is in Isom, KY. In my humble opinion, their fried chicken is the best around. What’s a favorite spot for you when you make it back home?
Photo Courtesy Of Velocity Market Facebook
J.T. Cure: One of the first stops I make is Velocity Market in Elkhorn City. They have the best hot dogs. Chili, mustard and slaw come standard. I worked there when I was in high school. I saved up for my first real Fender Bass with what I made there stocking shelves and carrying groceries to people’s car. I also try to make it up to the Snack Shack on Elkhorn Creek for some home fries.
Image Courtesy of Google Maps
CK: Some folks don’t take pride in their beginnings, but seemingly most any Eastern Kentuckian who has any success carries their beginnings as a badge of honor. What does being a Kentuckian mean to you?
J.T. Cure: I feel like the thing about being from Eastern Kentucky is that no one is going to give you anything and if you want something in this world you have to figure out how to earn it. I think that is a common thread for people back home no matter what they chose to do.
CK: I now live in Bourbon County, which happens to also be the home of The Wooks. You have recently been working with the band in Clay City, KY as they’ve been recording their new album. Tell me a bit about how your paths crossed and why you chose to work with them.
J.T. Cure: I first met C.J. and Arthur from the Wooks through a mutual friend and someone that I have played a lot of music with, Jesse Wells (I am pretty sure everyone reading this article knows Jesse, but if you don’t he is a true Kentucky treasure and probably the best musician I’ve ever met). I visited with them when they were recording the Little Circles record at Compass. I later got to see a live show in Richmond, KY at a club and they blew me away. They seem to reside somewhere in the middle of traditional bluegrass to full on jam band. I felt honored when they asked me to produce their new record. I wanted to capture as much of that energy they bring to the live show to the record as I could. I am excited for this new material to make it out in the world.
CK: Is producing something you’ve always wanted to do?
J.T. Cure: It is something that I had never really thought about doing until recently. I have stayed extremely busy between touring and recording with Chris and working my other job as a part-time accountant, that I didn’t really think I had time to do it. I spent quite a bit of time when I was in high school with a four-track rack cassette recorder making tapes where I played drums, bass, guitar, keyboards or whatever the song needed. I realized that those were some of my favorite times playing music. Producing is not exactly like that, but there are certain elements of it that bring me back to being that kid in the garage bouncing tracks to make room for new ones and really putting thought behind everything going on tape.
CK: On a personal note, you’ve been nominated as Bass Player Of the Year by the ACM Honors. The bulk of the awards lumped upon the music you help create, is focused on Mr. Stapleton. I am excited to see you get some recognition on a more personal level. What does a nomination like that mean to you?
J.T. Cure: It is something that I am very flattered by, definitely. It sort of came out of nowhere for me and I appreciate it. I am very happy for our drummer, Derek Mixon, who is nominated for drummer of the year as well.
CK: You’ve been playing music with Chris Stapleton for years. Even long before your current successes. The Jompson Brothers were one of my favorite projects. I can hear some aspects, particularly the guitar tones from that band in songs like “Hard Livin'” and the reworked “Midnight Train To Memphis”, any chance we could ever see or hear any unreleased material make it into a set or album?
J.T. Cure: Toward the end of the Jompson Brothers days, we did record some demos that turned out to be enough music for an EP. We have been talking about the possibility of mixing those and releasing them. There’s some good stuff on there and I think we would all like to see some of it get out there in the future.
CK: I touched a bit upon the seemingly endless pool of talent that our Commonwealth currently possesses. There seems to be a musical revolution forming and Kentucky talent seems poised to lead it. Artists like Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and most recently Tyler Childers have carved out their own niche and have been blazing their own paths. Some folks joke that there is something in the water along U.S. 23, but from your perspective, why do you feel so many talented folks rise up from Kentucky?
J.T. Cure: Well I know there has always been the talent back home, it just seems like more people are paying attention to it right now. Music is part of the culture and it is in our DNA. I think it is something that will always be important to us.
CK: Recently, Chris had Sturgill and Dave Cobb as guests on your guys most recent Saturday Night Live performance. Sturgill Simpson produced Tyler’s debut and lent his talents to two songs live at the Ryman recently. Any chance we could ever see a Kentucky Gentlemen tour with Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers someday?
J.T. Cure: It is certainly possible. Why limit it to just male artists? We could get Angaleena Presley and Patty Loveless on the bill too. We could open it up to other genres and have the Wooks, Ricky Skaggs, My Morning Jacket, Cage the Elephant, Chris Knight, The Headhunters, Dwight… It could last for days.
But to answer your question, it is certainly possible and would be something that would be fun to do up in KY. We could start in Pike County and work our way across the state.
Count me in. Let me know how to start that ball rolling!